It is an annual tradition, spring cleaning. It’s the time of year when the weather is FINALLY warm enough after the winter to open the windows and let fresh air into the house. It’s also the ideal time to inspect wardrobes and put together a bag of clothes for the local shelter with items not worn (and stained, stretched, things that don’t fit anymore, etc.)
The same process should happen in the pantry. Going through canned goods and finding those that are closing in on the expiration date, and making up a box to go to the local soup kitchen, food closet, or collection site for the poor.
And while that is happening, every cook needs to go through the spice rack. It is amazing how spices can sit on the shelf until they are no longer potent, or have spoiled. (This kitchen has two bottles of ground onion that are so caked, they got deep sixed.) This does not happen to frequently used spices, but it does to things like pumpkin pie spice that only gets used once a year.
Almost all spice jars have some sort of expiration date. Personal preference and descretion is, of course, up to the cook, but in general spices that have arrived at that date are past their prime, and really should be replaced. One kitchen diva gives this list as the rules of thumb for spice retention.
Extracts – 4 years
Ground Spices – 1-2 years
Herbs – 1-3 years
Seasoning Blends – 1-2 years
Vanilla Extract – forever
Whole Spices – 2-3 years
How to organize spices, of course, is a personal preference, but almost all sources (and this kitchen) alphabetize them.
As for what to do with expired spices, discarding is an option, but for some aromatic herbs like rosemary, mint and others, using them in sachets and potpourri is always something fun to do and will help keep the house smelling nice when it gets closed up and the air conditioning runs all summer long.